Life in Transition (Up in the Trees)

It has been another beautiful week here on the farm. The weather has returned to ideal conditions, favourable for olive picking. It has been a pleasure to be back up in the trees. We were loaned two machines to help us pick, along with some better nets. The machines are like long, gyrating forks that jostle the branches and knock the olives to the nets below. A friendly farmer, Michele, offered us his tools while he caught up on a variety of other chores on the nearby land he tends. He even loaned us a worker, Federico, a young shepherd. I had never met a shepherd before – not knowingly at least. He was a nice young guy. Fresh-faced and wide-eyed. He stayed a few nights here in the ‘worker house’, joining us for meals as well as a few days of olive picking.

We were very productive this week. We have already been enjoying the spoils of our labour. The freshly pressed olive oil is so delicious, with such a crisp and clear flavour, and a deep green colour. Apparently the leaves that mix in with the pressing process add to the green. The chlorophyll is still so fresh that it will take a few months before the green fades into the yellowish colour we tend to expect of olive oil. Whatever the colour, it is perfect for dipping fresh bread into at the moment.

I have found myself smiling and laughing quite a bit this week. Sometimes quietly to myself and at other times howling with my friends here. As I work in the trees the peace of the countryside mingles with the peace within (ultimately blurring any distinction) and I find it so easy to breathe. I can feel peace and express it so effortlessly. It just comes bubbling up to the surface. Joy seems so natural. It is strange to me that so many of us let joy become so obscured in our lives, and so rare. So caught up in our ‘serious’ stories. We seem to have forgotten that we can be earnest without being serious. It feels to me like joy is the ground floor. It’s right here. I wonder what we are chasing up in the penthouse that is any better than this?

I admit a view from up top is nice. I’ve been enjoying climbing the trees and looking around for a few moments at the rolling hills and golden light, the Cyprus trees and linear vineyards standing out in sharp relief. The trees are often fullest at the top, olives bunched together in great masses, and the picking is highly satisfying. The machines make quick work of it but I prefer to pick by hand up in the higher reaches of the trees, the branches supporting me with surprising strength.

Sun setting on another day of olive picking.

Sun setting on another day of olive picking.

But things are shifting again on the farm. My friend, Franz, who has been running the farm for the past fifteen years, has gone off to Cuba with his wife, Molly, to organize a few yoga retreats there. They will be gone for about a month. Franz’s mother, Nirdosh, who owns the farm, is slowly taking the reigns back. She has a very different vision for this space than her son has implemented over the past decade and a half. It is a tender energy at times, here, as life moves through the friction of transition. Some of the other workers (one live-in and a few who come and go) are wondering what their place will be here moving forward. All parties are wondering about where loyalties lie, and where they should. I feel like a free agent here, my only loyalty to love (which is also truth, or presence), and I sense I am serving as something of a bridge between others here, supporting open communication and any necessary airing of concerns. Perhaps I am here to be a witness. I don’t need to know, though.

Transition can be tough. That seems to be why so many of us hold on so tightly to our various life rafts. I see it at work in myself, every day. But I also have developed such a strong commitment to truth, through presence, that I am constantly leaping from my own ‘safety’ (or insulation) into the mysterious heart of life’s uncertainty. It is very raw and vulnerable out here. But unmistakably real. That is the attraction. No more hiding. Yet quick forgiveness when old patterns pop up. Breathe in and recommit. Release.

Life, when allowed, is a natural disentangler. But it first forces us to face our entanglements, not an altogether enjoyable ride. But it is ever-so worthwhile. And ultimately unavoidable. This is the process of liberation. This is how we become free of our limitations, by recognizing them for what they are. Perspective comes through the clear sight of all we are afraid of, all we are avoiding. We are nudged (or jolted) back to our true ground, seeing the impermanence of all we had attached ourselves to. The very ‘act’ (or ‘experience’) of truly clear sight implies that everything seen cannot be who we are. Consider this. There is a gap here – perception itself. It feels paradoxical. Can a tongue taste itself?

No need to figure any of it out. It is not to be ‘understood’, not in the way we often try to ‘understand’ things, anyhow. But it can knock the cloud from under us and see us fall back to the ground of reality. This ground cannot be conceptualized. It seems to be ever-unfolding. It allows no pause, and yet invites full rest. So come back to yourself and rest a moment. Take a breath. See where it may take you.

I guess I’ll come back to myself now and wrap it up for this week. 😉 I plan to check in again in about another week. I will likely still be here on the farm. But who knows?

Lots of love to all…keep it flowing. 🙂

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Prime Time for Hiking

I will keep today’s entry brief. It has been a beautiful sunny day here in Montreal. I didn’t want to waste much of it inside. It has not been this warm in quite some time. It got up over 20 degrees for the first time in months. I enjoyed a good dose of sunlight, grateful to be free of the heavy clothes our winter demands. It is great to see the regeneration of life all around. The parks are perking up, both in colour and activity. People generally have a pep in their step, keen to be out and about. The collective avoidance of outdoors seems to be over.

I spent most of yesterday out in the sun as well, hiking out in the Eastern Townships. It was a full day. Though not quite as warm as today, it was clear and pleasant. My friend, Jacques, called me on Saturday afternoon to inform me of his plans to head out early Sunday morning for a solid day of hiking – aiming for either Mont Echo or Mont Singer. We would play it by ear. We got moving at about 6:30 AM and got back to Montreal at about 7:00 PM. We were hiking for more than seven hours. It was a beauty of a day. We only saw two other people on the whole trail, crossing paths with them as they left the summit. Jacques, a former MEC employee and general outdoor enthusiast, was outfitted with all the gear one could imagine. I showed up with hiking boots, jeans and a t-shirt. He suited me up in extra gear he had brought, including snowshoes. Somehow I had never trekked in snowshoes before, but I took to it rather quickly, growing to enjoy it.

Stopping to savour the quiet scenery and open space around us, watching creeks carry away melting snow, we shared a wonderful hike through the trees and up the mountain. It was an ideal day for such an adventure. We got up to about 800 metres elevation and sat at the summit to soak in the view and have some more snacks, consisting mostly of fruit and trail mix. On our descent we noticed the effect of the day’s sun on the snow, which was noticeably softer, and soggier. Little snow bridges were caving into the creeks that surged to life, likely peaking in these first few days of real warmth. It was a great time to climb. Signs of life were already springing up in certain spots, ferns and moss near warming rocks breaking through the heavy snow. I was truly ready for a break from the city. It had been a while since I had been wrapped in nature like that. What a treat.

mont-singer

I didn’t bring my camera yesterday. I found this picture online. It was a lot whiter yesterday…but just as beautiful. A photo can’t do it justice.

That’s it for today. I am off to work EARLY in the morning and I will soon head to bed.

Technology and Nature

I am riding a train at the moment, traveling from Toronto to Montreal. It was a quick turn-around trip. But it was packed with activity. I arrived around noon on Saturday and had a brief meeting regarding my summer job as a pilgrim coordinator for the GO Project, then enjoyed a couple hours of basketball before heading home for a shower and some family time. I met up that evening with a handful of good friends for a game of cards and a lot of laughs. I attended a stirring worship at Islington United Church on Sunday morning, enjoying various visits during the following coffee hour, and got downtown for a longer meeting about our cross-country pilgrimage this summer. Twelve of us from across Canada met online and chatted with the aid of a conference call and various little video windows on our computer screens. It was pretty cool – a bit overwhelming at first, but eventually just great that we were able to connect in such a way.

It amazes me how connected we are today. And yet the balance remains. The more absorbed we are by our devices, the less available we become for those around us. The gifts always seem to come with challenges. Not to say any of our technological capacities are not worthwhile. It obviously boils down to how we employ them, ever-mindful of the need for balance. Here I sit on a moving train – passing through small towns, crossing softly rolling rivers, sliding beside golf courses – and I am able to be typing a blog post which will instantly reach anyone who wants to see it. That is pretty incredible. And yet the reflection of the setting sun on my screen reminds me to be mindful of the really important things in life – the light, namely. We wouldn’t have much without the power of the sun pouring upon us. I am grateful to keep perspective as I engage with technology, remembering the real foundation of life. The more immersed we become in technology the greater the risk of slipping into a strictly mechanistic view of life, wherein we more easily lose touch with the reality of nature (and the nature of reality?), in some ways so delicate, in other ways capable of teaching us harsh lessons for our ignorance.

So I suppose this is a call for awareness. If we were all more aware of our natural foundations, I feel we would be living in a more harmonious way with our environment and our neighbours. If we truly understood how connected everything is we couldn’t help but respect our surroundings, honouring the delicate and dynamic balance of nature, upon which all else rests. But life teaches us when we find ourselves wandering ‘off course’ – are we listening?

Nature&Technology

I think I will wrap it up there for today, keeping it short and sweet. I want to watch out the window as the countryside slides by. I wish everyone a wonderful week. For those celebrating Easter, may you have a blessed Holy Week! I fondly recall Semana Santa both in Spain and South America. Enjoy the revitalization of the spring season! I am relieved to see most of the snow melting, certainly feeling ready for the renewal of green over grey.

🙂

The Snow Falls Still

I guess I got a bit excited last week when we had a couple of warmer days. The snow was melting and I was leaning myself optimistically into spring. But the winter spoke up again and reminded me that it is not yet through with us. Montreal saw a good deal of snow fall early yesterday, though the bitter cold of the past weeks seems to be gone. I remain optimistic as the days grow longer and the sunlight feels warmer. We make our official transition into spring this Friday as we reach the equinox.

Just about six months ago I wrote a post on the equinox – the balance of night and day – while trying to ride the momentum of the shifting seasons in ‘turning the corner’. I still find myself trying to ‘turn the corner’ now and again, often related to my food or work habits (input and output). ‘One more day of indulgence,’ a voice says, ‘and then I’ll get back into my discipline.’ I sense this voice would go on forever if we let it. Even in my most productive and disciplined phases, this voice constantly pushed for more, never satisfied. I trust we have all seen these conversations taking place in our minds. I feel it shows the duality of life. There seem to be two of ‘us’ taking part in our internal chatter. Doesn’t this seem odd? Who are we talking to? Who is responding?

In the midst of our inner tangling, however, there is a silent observation that often goes unnoticed. This is simply clear sight, not leaning one way or another, but just observing all that pops up. We are usually so caught up with our thoughts and where they might take us that we seldom appreciate the quality of pure awareness itself which makes cognition possible. But this quiet awareness – completely unbiased alert observation – is nonetheless the foundation for every thought, word and deed. This ‘ground floor’ is where I have been endeavouring to invest my attention of late. This is the process of meditation, essentially, a return to the wholeness that we already are (but may not see).

In this space all dualities come to union and rest. Their continuing play of apparent opposition is seen from a place where they never left. Every equinox and solstice, whether in our skies or in our lives, can be seen as a sign of balance, expressing itself through our oscillating nature. Every season, every tide, every ebb and flow, high and low, can come and go in this space with ease and freedom. Every duality and division, all conflict and contradiction, can be understood more deeply, equally embraced by the loving silence of clear sight, unconditioned and uncreated.

This Friday’s equinox falls in line with a new moon and a total solar eclipse. There will be no shortage of opportunity to ‘turn the corner’. Perhaps we can recommit to clearer sight and see what happens. Though only those in Greenland or Iceland will get anywhere near the full effect of the eclipse, much of Europe and North Africa will be blanketed in the shadow of the new moon, itself leaning close to earth on the perigee of its elliptical orbit. It all seems to be a chance to respect the rise and fall of seasons, on every imaginable scale – from the rise and fall of our every breath to the expansion and (inevitable?) contraction of our universe – and come in contact with that which remains solid and unswayed by the winds of change.

I try to keep this sort of thing in mind as I cross any kind of threshold.  Because on the surface, transition is all there is. It is truly constant. But just beneath our surface experience of life, it is all quietly embraced by the ‘everlasting arms’ of presence. There is a deep peace and grace issuing endlessly from this space, given freely by this inconceivable presence. This is where I want to hang out. This is where I’d like to meet you.

Seasons

I wasn’t planning to get ‘deep’ when I started writing today. I am planning to make a juice today (a lengthy and involved job) and I have a few other errands I need to run, so I was just trying to rattle off a wee entry for the week…but this is what happened. So take it lightly and in stride. I’ll do the same. 🙂

And I’ll close with a quote of Rumi’s, which I love:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing, there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.

Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls

Rodney Falls

I woke up yesterday morning with a rather silly song lyric spinning through my mind, repeating over and over. “Don’t go chasing waterfalls, please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to.” That’s right. TLC. Who would have guessed?

I couldn’t account for it. I haven’t listened to that song in a long time. I don’t think I ever actively tried to listen to it (though I did just look it up on Youtube to double-check that I had recalled the correct lyrics). It seemed to be everywhere when it came out in 1995. It was all over the TV and radio. My older brother listened to it enough at home that it must have become embedded somewhere in my consciousness. But as it hit me yesterday morning, stirring from a deep Sunday sleep-in, I sensed there may actually be a valuable message tucked into it.

Laying there in bed about to start my morning yoga routine, it occurred to me that perhaps the song was suggesting we take life at its own natural pace. It seemed to be telling me that there was no need to force anything. We can simply let it all flow. The song even suggests that there may be a price to pay for jumping to extremes. Already living with this general ‘go with the flow’ philosophy, I nonetheless welcomed the morning reminder. As the lyrics continued to pop up during my yoga practice, the message continued hitting home.

Ultimately, what I saw it pointing toward was balance. I had just fasted for another couple of days and though I try to observe the importance of easing back into eating after fasts, sometimes my first bite back makes me want to gorge on something. I often joke about it with my roommates, my bouncing between feasting and fasting (although my snacking tends to be relatively innocuous – rice cakes and carrots dipped in hummus, or mixed nuts and raisins). Either way, taking it slowly seems to be the wise way.

After my yoga and meditation, I checked my email and Facebook and soon found myself clicking open a number of tabs and reading various articles. As I read about some of the ‘chaos’ happening around the planet at present, I noticed my stomach tensing up. How could I avoid the waterfalls in the midst of all this? In our noisy and fast-paced world, tuning in to the calmer waters can be pretty tricky. I decided to switch gears and began watching a bunch of Bob Ross clips on Youtube. I watched him paint a calm pond and a few happy little trees, bathing in the patience of his endlessly soothing voice. What a sweet soul he is, I said to myself. He reminded me that we can choose what to focus on. If you don’t know him, or even if it’s been a while, I highly recommend checking him out.

I then met a friend for an autumn walk up the mountain at the heart of Montreal. I felt the good of the woods reaching into me and settling my soul even more. The sweet peace of the open air and colourful fall leaves put me at ease. It reminded me at times of my six-day summer hike in Killarney Provincial Park. Much like I had then, I was enjoying the simplicity of nature and casual companionship. I was doing my best to stay out of the way and let it all flow.

Later in the evening, my brother and I met with our parents in the Old Port, arriving just ahead of them to the hotel where they are staying the next couple of nights with our dear Austrian friend, Edda. As I made my way through the meal, declining offers of alcohol and sweets, I felt myself honouring the calm waters, no longer chasing the waterfalls of a sugar rush as I would have done in the past, or the buzz of a beer. Though I have no particular problem with either of these substances, I feel it is important to keep our relationship with them in check. I know what they do to my body and mind, and I don’t tend to tangle with them anymore.

We met with our parents again today for a nice lunch near my brother’s restaurant and I suggested afterwards that they go for a walk up the mountain, taking it nice and slow, enjoying the great view of the city. Back at my brother’s restaurant I thought about sitting to write a while, knowing I wanted to compose my Monday blog post. As I was hanging about the kitchen, my cousin asked me if I wanted to join him for a walk. He has been off of cigarettes for two weeks now (I have been a big supporter in the cause) and, going with the flow, I thought it would be nice to hang with him for a while. We strolled down to HMV and I watched the busy city bounce around us as we passed, trying to keep some of my attention on the calm in my core. Don’t go chasing waterfalls…I reminded myself.

When we got back to Burritoville (my brother and cousin’s restaurant), I asked my friend Gabe what I should write about for my blog today. He paused a moment and told me to write about “the central attraction of the Pacific Northwest”. That seemed strange and vague, though par for the course for Gabe. I came home and had a quick peek online, imagining big trees to be a central draw to the region, and nature in general. Waterfalls popped up as a main attraction and seemed perfectly fitting. I’ve been rattling away for about an hour or so now. So here we are.

I have not edited a thing. This has just tumbled out of me as you see it. No surprise, I guess. In the course of my research on the song, I discovered that Paul McCartney released a song of the same name fifteen years before TLC, with very similar lyrics. Whoever sang it first doesn’t seem to matter much – it remains a message worth repeating – don’t go chasing waterfalls, folks. Just relax. Take it easy. Trust life. Have a great week.

🙂

Take It Easy

Even Atheists Believe In Rainbows

rainbow-beach

I have always loved rainbows. I can recall staring out of a car window at a massive rainbow painting itself on the landscape during a long family drive through the countryside. As a youngster, rainbows completely amazed me (as is likely true for all kids). I always wanted to get closer to them. I wanted to touch them. I wanted the colours to spread themselves across my skin. This was before I knew about so-called Leprechauns (as far as I can recall). I didn’t care about any pot of gold, or any supposed prize at either end of the rainbow. I just wanted to touch it, to hold it, to know it.

My fascination may have faded as I grew older, but it never died, and any time a rainbow spread itself across the sky, it reignited the wonder of my childhood, awakening my innate sense of awe. I can’t imagine anyone growing tired of rainbows. I love to see adults regard them with the same child-like glimmer in their eye that they so often used to see the world through. It’s as if a rainbow can cleanse and renew us, freeing our sight, allowing us to look at life through a more magical lens. It doesn’t mean that we should curb our curiosity and instinct to understand, but perhaps we could leave enough room to absorb a rainbow’s unspoken majesty before digesting it into blocks of knowledge, distinct units of colour and symbols or stories. Look at the blurred lines binding the colours together and see how fluid they all are. Try to suspend your storytelling and analyzing for a moment and just be bowled over by its incomprehensible beauty.

Aside from their grace and charm, rainbows can bring people together. Taking in a shared rainbow can strengthen bonds between people, adding a hint of mystery to the moment. On the day of the mighty rainbow in Istanbul (which I mentioned in last week’s post), I saw countless people stopping and staring together, smiling and commenting to those around them, making momentary companions of previously complete strangers. For days after the rainbow it was a topic of conversation, people sharing their excitement and experiences of it. I met a number of people in book shops and cafes still talking about it throughout the week. And as much of a shared experience as a rainbow can be, it is also perfectly personal.

Nobody looks at the same rainbow. It is a matter of perspective. Moving either to the left or the right changes the rainbow. Every set of eyes gazing up in wonder at these astounding displays of light and colour is observing their very own rainbow. I began considering this interesting quality of light as I was traveling through Italy. As I watched the sun setting over Lago di Garda (just west of Verona) I marvelled at the movement of the light, playing on waves, rolling itself out to me, inviting me, as I sauntered along the shore. I realized that everybody looking at this sunset had their own direct slice of light unfolding across the water, dancing, shimmering and playing on the subtle waves. Its never-ending nature humbled me. It just kept on pouring over us, feeding us its abundant energy. I couldn’t help but be grateful. I felt as though the light were speaking to the light within me, warming, softening and nudging me toward further growth. I sat on a bench and pulled out my journal to scribble a bit of verse, or whatever else might come through me in the moment.

The light slips through cracks in our consciousness. Conspiring to gather again, to mingle among itself. To grow and spread. Some allow its flow constantly, others grab and grasp, but just fall short of holding on. We cannot contain or frame. Even as the blood flows through our veins. Our vines. Forever moving. In the mind, knives align, design and slice. But boxing up in sizes can never hold for ever and all, nor water in blocks of ice.

I rambled on even less coherently after that, but had approached an interesting pivot point – the paradoxical notion of light’s fleeting and endless flow. It is both ephemeral and constant. I loved it. A couple of weeks later in the south of Italy, I was moved by the subtle wisp of a rainbow hinted in the mist of the sea spraying up from the rocks along the shore. The light played upon the tiny droplets of water, and I sensed a kinship. With each wave rolling in and crashing upon the rocks, a new rainbow would emerge in the mist, whispering itself to my heart and fading away. I suddenly loved that a rainbow could never be proven. I no longer wanted to capture it, but just wanted to admire it for as long as it would let me.

That evening I met a Polish physicist and we got talking at length about light and energy, and the wonder of rainbows. We spoke also of faith and how so many scientific minds require hard evidence before permitting belief in anything. While I could understand this, I also felt that there was something inside me, inside all of us, that could not be proven – something before knowledge. The rainbow and its endless source of light seemed an apt analogy. A phrase was born in my mind; ‘Even atheists believe in rainbows’. It seemed to say that even apparent disbelievers are capable of belief. As I saw it, even expectation of the sunrise is taken on faith. Probability does not guarantee it, despite its strong likelihood based on past experience.

As I was leaving the seaside town of Salerno, I caught a subtle sense of the spectrum of colour glimmering in a dark grey cloud. It was just about to rain, and as the heavy, grey cloud approached, I could see the whole rainbow hiding inside of it (though only ever in my peripheral vision). It stirred up even more wonder in me. How incredible, that even in darkness light and life is all-pervasive, that rich colours can dance in the most dense and dark clouds. I was positively buoyant as I left Salerno.

I don’t know that there is any clear point to this rambling, but maybe it can serve to remind us of the miracle of life that is always all around us. It can remind us to look up into the sky once in a while without a feeling of ‘knowing’ what everything is, and just allowing ourselves to wonder. We need not be dragged into seeing life through a mundane lens. Just look at a cloud and see if you can watch it without reinforcing your regular ‘cloud-related’ concepts. Watch sunlight cut through clouds and splay itself out in all directions, as though the rays of light had found a new source to broadcast their pure energy from.

Maybe we can be such vessels, emptying ourselves of clutter and allowing light to move through us toward others. Every rainbow is a reminder that life and light are free and ever-available – never departing and never arriving, just enjoying the journey. It doesn’t have to make sense. It’s OK to be stunned and catch ourselves without answers once in a while. After all, there’s no need to know how. We can only ever know now.

rainbowspectrum

By the way, perhaps it’s time to listen to Rainbow Connection again.  🙂

Thanks for reading!  Tune in again next week for something a little bit less hippie-dippy, I think.

The Good of the Woods

woods

“In the woods is perpetual youth.” Ralph Waldo Emerson shared this nugget of subtle wisdom in his 1836 essay, Nature. Originally published anonymously, Nature introduced a new view of life to the Western World. I feel it to be a view we could benefit from as the frantic pace of modern life reaches fever pitch. Nature is precisely where we can discover this wisdom for ourselves – as if for the first time, we can see our unity anew, renewing our purpose and our passion.

Nature is not outside of us, and yet it is all around. We are not separate from it. The same life in every tree branch and blade of grass is alive in us. If only for a moment we allowed ourselves to fall quiet and observe life with a calm mind we would see very clearly the singular intelligence of nature at work within and around us. But we need not run off to Alaska to connect with this force. We can see nature in the city, too, though the speed and noise of urban life often make it more difficult.

Nature moves through cycles. Many we can see. Some we speculate. Others we intuit. Despite our discovery of countless cycles and patterns in nature, I sense we are still guided by far larger cycles than we can see, the magnitude of which we can scarcely conceive. These wider realities may well exist beyond any scale or reason. Though many of us seem to have glimpsed the infinite potential of the source – life’s creative centre – and some attempt to express it, the deepest essence of life remains ever-elusive, immune to scrutiny. But that’s neither here nor there.

Nature’s cycles honour the law of balance, expanding to contract, rising to fall. Similarly, we find ourselves alternating between extremes, in equal need of work and rest. The manic pace of our society demands balance, and many are now awakening to its necessity. On one hand, racing alongside the arrow of time, we are most definitely on the edge of an ever-breaking wave, endlessly evolving, pushing forever onward. But we cannot deny that seasons peak. Nothing grows without eventual decay. Nature shows us this in our solstices and equinoxes. But it is difficult to sense these shifts while we are in the immensity of their midst. The folly of falling empires – as all fall – has been to project an endless reign, blurring the dual truths of now and forever. But eternity has nothing to do with time. Time is temporal, temporary. It comes and goes. Real life is always now.

It is nearly impossible to have perspective from within a picture. But we keep trying to capture the outer frame, convinced it exists. On one level, turning points are undeniable. But beyond all of these cycles and shifts, there seems to be something constant – a background of unchanging presence. What else could register change? Perhaps the calm, detached and unbiased clarity developed through meditation can allow for a greater understanding of wider frames of existence, perceiving shifts as they are taking place.

I recall reading several years ago about a significant global threshold being crossed – the human population had become more urban than rural. Within a few months of this news I read also that more than half of the world owned cell phones. I felt these turning points to be connected, and indicative of a massive global shift, the repercussions of which would surely be felt, however subtly. I thought it was strange that we could have pin-pointed these tipping points so precisely. I wondered if such a critical mass could even be so tidy and finite. Either way, I found myself keen to leave the city, more interested in the whisper of a silent breeze than the ongoing honking of horns. So I headed for the woods to become an earnest student of nature. It taught me a lot.

***

Caterpillars consume. That is how they spend their entire lives. They have a voracious appetite, which eventually turns inward. After enough consumption the caterpillar begins digesting itself. The butterfly that becomes from within them is born of their life of endless eating. The life of the butterfly is comparatively brief, though beautiful. Butterflies flit about very lightly, drinking a bit of nectar or tree sap, occasionally taking nourishment from dung, rotting fruit or decaying flesh. It is an incredible example of transformation. I imagine the butterfly’s perspective must be quite a shift from the slow and heavy life of a caterpillar.

Looking at it, I sense a parallel between the caterpillar/butterfly life-cycle and that of humanity. Our endless consumption of oil and sugar, among various other vices, will eventually leave us with little else to consume but ourselves. We have been acting like caterpillars for quite some time now. I wonder when we will find ourselves in a collective cocoon, digesting our culture’s fat stores? What will our flowering into butterflies be like? Has it happened before?

Much like sugar speeds us up, packing a condensed punch of energy, I feel oil has similarly sped up our collective evolution. With the rapid extraction and expenditure of energy that has been stored in our planet for millions of years, we have accelerated our civilization so wildly that we are only slowly coming to terms with it. As with any form of growth, experiencing growing pains is common, along with often sloppy leaps forward. It takes time to come to terms with these changes and to level out, eventually gaining clearer perspective in hindsight.

So perhaps Western civilization has peaked and we are just realizing it. It’s not a radical suggestion. There are many signs of this around us. Detroit, once the centre of an unparallelled industrial and economic boom, has been in decline for decades, emblematic of our present direction. The home of the automobile, the birthplace of modern worker’s unions, the city where the assembly line was perfected – have these (albeit valuable) developments reached their peaks? I really don’t know. Might their decay give rise to new and greater structures?

It seems there is some remnant momentum from the early westward settlers of the New World, then encouraged to continue pushing the frontier, told to ‘Go West’. But where does it end? Is the Occident an accident? It may be time to reorient ourselves, to seek balance. We went all the way west, and the wave hitting the coast has been settling for some time now. Some hit the coast and leapt across to the extreme East (whether physically or philosophically), but otherwise, a general mellowing occurred, despite the crowds still flocking there. California, as well as Oregon and Washington, seemed to pave the way for the widespread acceptance of yoga and organics, generally waking people up. It is no surprise that it happened out there first, all the way west, and is now spreading back. Perhaps it will eventually settle us all into a natural balance. But many are still clinging to old habits, patterns and structures, very reluctant to relent. I wonder how much the caterpillar struggles as it becomes a butterfly?

If indeed we are in the midst of a great shift, as many sense, the new phase of life need not be seen as a negative. A ‘recession’ or ‘decline’ is a natural cycle of life, and can bring us into closer contact with the things that truly matter in life. Money is not among them. The buzz of our consumptive guzzle muddles our vision. Even the faintest trace of greed clouds our sight. We need to refrain, to reframe and retrain ourselves in order to see clearly. But the suffering caused by this consumerist chaos is sufficient to alert us and shake us awake. Balance is asserting itself, effortlessly – at apparent peril to many. Whether as active pacifists, passive activists, generally apathetic passengers or any other creative combination of character, our collective excess is awakening many to the madness of our ways, giving rise to a more conscious hand in our continued evolution. But this is a dynamic dance, and we must honour the grunts and nudges of mother nature. Technology need not fade away, but we must first listen to and respect the needs of our host, our home, the centre upon which we spin. We must surrender our short-sighted desires for the demands of life. The more we resist change, the worse it will hurt. All attempts at total control will eventually implode – we are seeing this now. So let’s let go together, with great care and attention, sensing the inborn course of nature, and serving it wisely, easing the transformation. Maybe we will all end up butterflies flitting about lightly, dancing delicately in the dynamic creative centre of life (whatever that might mean).

***

This has been quite the rant. It is largely unedited and very much ‘off-the-cuff’, chewing on and spewing out a few notions that have been rolling around inside a while. If you made it through it all, please take in what suits you and discard the rest. It looks as though I am railing on cities at times, which have their obvious benefits, though they seem to separate us to the same extent that they press us together. However, I guess our perceptions and behaviours are ultimately up to us. Whether in the city or otherwise, as we become more conscious and respectful of nature’s balance, I believe our society can serve nature instead of stripping it. The planet will cleanse itself of our presence if we are unable to come back into balance. And I sense that we are waking up and responding to this call. As we do so, cities are becoming healthy hubs. But we cannot forget to check in with life in the old-fashioned forest. Am I biased? Would I know for sure one way or another? Maybe I am just ready for some time in the woods. That’s where I am headed. Right now. I wrote much of this last night, in order to keep up with my Monday posting schedule. I am off to hike for a week in Killarney Provincial Park with a friend. I will check in again next week to let you know what I found out in the woods – aside, of course, from perpetual youth.